Differences are becoming increasingly visible between the soft left, radical left and the orthodox left

From the Guardian 1st March 2020

The Labour party has always been a broad church made up of many political traditions: from trade unionists, to free marketeers, to radical socialists. With each leader the makeup of the party has changed composition, bringing in new members and shifting old alliances. The Corbyn years saw a significant sea change in Labour’s internal politics, and the current leadership election is revealing new contours to Labour’s internal topology. Most important, we’re seeing the emergence of a distinctive, radical-left current that is democratic, green and internationalist in its socialist aspirations.
Until 2015, there were four main factional tendencies in the Labour party: the “old right”, the “hard left”, the “soft left” and the Blairites. The old right – rooted in local government and union bureaucracies – has campaigned against radical socialism since the 1940s. The political crises of the 1980s saw the Labour left divide between the hard left of Tony Benn and the soft left led by Neil Kinnock (and, later, Ed Miliband). The soft left wanted to update socialism for a post-industrial age, to expel Trotskyist factions from the party, and to make whatever accommodations it took to win elections. The hard left remained committed to the radical policy agenda developed in the 1970s, despite waning support for traditional socialism among the electorate. The Blairites, advocating free markets and globalisation, emerged as a distinctive section of the party elite in the 1990s, but never had an enthusiastic base among members; they always relied on support from the old right and the soft left to carry out their agenda.
Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the lines separating these factions blurred and shifted. Several of his senior staff and union supporters came from, or maintained close links with, the hardest sections of the hard left, such as the tiny Communist party of Britain. But much of Corbyn’s activist base – and allied projects such as The World Transformed, Novara and Red Pepper – have occupied a different political space: green, libertarian, pluralistic and democratic. This “radical left” has always been ideologically closer to the most progressive strands of the soft left (such as Compass), which in turn backed Corbyn throughout his leadership, even while more conservative sections of the soft left peeled away to back Owen Smith in 2016. The organisation set up in 2015 to defend Corbyn’s leadership – Momentum – has always contained elements from all of these tendencies.
Labour leadership: Keir Starmer on course to win in first round – poll
In fact, it’s clear now that the old division between the soft and hard left has been giving way for some time to a new distribution of positions. While all three tendencies pulled together under Corbyn, the differences are becoming increasingly visible between the soft left, radical left and a new “orthodox left” as the Labour leadership election progresses.
Keir Starmer’s success in the leadership race so far has been in winning the support of the traditional soft left, which still constitutes a large proportion of party members. Despite the failures of both Kinnock and Miliband, their default assumption remains that progressive government can be achieved by selling moderate social democracy to the electorate, led by a guy in a smart suit. At the same time, the old right and the Blairites have all accepted that, for now, they can only gain influence by backing a soft-left contender such as Starmer. Nandy has pitched herself at times to the soft left, at times to the old right; and so has won significant support from neither.
Linked to the leadership of unions such as Unite and the RMT, the orthodox left back Long-Bailey as Corbyn’s anointed successor. Under any other leader, their influence will drastically decline. The orthodox left still basically wants to implement the Communist party’s 1951 plan, The British Road to Socialism, with its vision of socialism being implemented in one country by a strong, centralised national government. They lean heavily towards a pro-Brexit position, while tending to interpret support for Brexit among working-class voters as incipient class consciousness rather than tabloid-inspired xenophobia.
The radical left is still a very new, fragile and inexperienced tendency that has a long way to go before emerging as a mature political formation. It brings together the more libertarian strands of the hard left, the more radical strands of the soft left, and a new generation of activists from outside the traditions of the Labour party. Clive Lewis’s short-lived leadership campaign was the most obvious expression to date of the desire of some Labour members to express a distinctive left position that is more green, more internationalist, more democratic and less tied to traditional Labourism than that of the orthodox left. Long-Bailey shares much common ground with this tradition, having championed Labour’s plans for a green industrial revolution; she has since got further by backing open selections. But it is mainly out of sheer loyalty to her mentor, John McDonnell, that most of the radical left have supported her.
This is an uneasy alliance. Privately, many on the radical left agree with former MP Alan Simpson that the dogmatic and authoritarian tendencies of the orthodox left smothered the creative and democratic potential of Corbynism, contributing to its eventual downfall. For example, the leadership of Unite and other unions have opposed open selections of parliamentary candidates, preferring to bolster their own direct influence over candidate selections, despite democratisation of the party being Corbyn’s first promise to his followers, and Momentum’s major demand. On the other hand, there seems little chance of the radical left becoming anything more than a fringe movement unless it maintains its effective coalition with the orthodox left: the latter being far more established and empowered at the level of effective institutions, from Unite to the Morning Star.
But for that coalition to be maintained, the radical left may need to find its own distinctive organisational voice. Whether that will take the form of some new formal network or actual membership organisation, or whether the radical left will remain a loose affiliation of activists and alternative media, remains to be seen. But even in the very likely event of a Starmer victory, it is hard to see a future in which Labour confronts the real challenges of our time – the climate emergency and the breakdown of representative democracy – without the energy of the radical left driving it forward.
This radical left is not a brand new phenomenon. In many ways it inherits the legacy of the New Left of the 1960s, and traditions of radical democratic socialism going back to the 19th century. But arguably its egalitarian, libertarian worldview is now shared by more people – especially younger people – than at any previous time, both in the UK and the US. One of the most distinctive features of the movement to elect Bernie Sanders has been its embrace of just this participatory, horizontal, green and libertarian politics (just compare his position on drugs policy to those of the Labour leadership contenders). This is the shape of 21st-century socialism.
Labour suffered a terrible electoral defeat in 2019, but it still won more votes than at any election since 2001, and the recovery of its activist culture and support among young people has been remarkable. These gains were all won by the energy and imagination of the radical left, and they will have to be maintained and built on if Labour is ever to form a government again. Any future leadership will have to include elements and ideas that can represent this tendency and give it room to grow.
• Jeremy Gilbert is professor of cultural and political theory at the University of East London and the author of Twenty-First Century Socialism

Burke and Brexit: the UK’s chief negotiator displays a lack of concern about trade risks and accountability

Ahead of the government’s publication of its negotiating approach to agreeing a future relationship with the EU, the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, gave a speech that referenced the work of Edmund Burke. Pippa Catterall argues that Frost distorted Burke’s views, and in doing so displays a shallow and muddled understanding of the risk and uncertainty ahead.

Britain’s chief negotiator for the next phase of Brexit, David Frost, set out his stall in a speech in Brussels on 17 February. It contained plenty of questionable constitutional assertions. For instance, Frost’s statement that ‘Independence does not mean a limited degree of freedom in return for accepting some of the norms of the central power’ applies far more to Scotland’s relationship to the UK than it ever did to Britain’s position in Europe.

Commentary from expert trade negotiators also picked out the various large and dubious assumptions Frost made. First, it does not follow from his ability to cast doubt on the detail of econometric studies of Brexit’s impact that his unsupported optimism is warranted.

Second, while he may be right that trade does not drive productivity, he adduces no hard evidence that Brexit is the magic bullet that will somehow reverse the UK’s long-term productivity problem. Third, there is instead simply an inference that Brexit will mean that Britain’s regulatory framework will be more nimble and thus incubate more investment and the productivity that it hopefully promotes. The speed of British decision-making on infrastructure projects unclouded by EU interference, such as a new runway in South-East England or the Northern Powerhouse, suggests such confidence may be misplaced. The role of public inquiries in such processes might suggest that Frost’s fourth assumption – that getting ‘people involved in making decisions’ will produce better and faster ones – is equally unsound. In any case, Frost has shown little enthusiasm for involving interested parties, such as businesses, in his negotiations. Presumably the reason why he is leading these negotiations as an unelected bureaucrat, rather than a minister in the House of Lords (which could easily have been contrived), is to ensure that Parliament has minimal involvement or opportunity to scrutinise him too.

Fifth, how much sovereignty can a polity realistically claim when it is less than 3% of world trade and is, as Frost admits, peculiarly open to trade flows? Frost may have been keen to play down the importance of non-tariff barriers. But the notion that Britain will be able to determine its own regulatory standards in trade negotiations will likely be seen as unrealistic in Washington as well as Brussels, as anyone who has been paying attention to American discussions about trade deals will readily have noticed. Not that, sixth, Frost made any effort to acknowledge the American elephant in the room.

Instead Frost’s speech told us more about what he knows about the eighteenth-century Irish political thinker and Whig politician, Edmund Burke (1729–97). Keen students of the legacy of Thatcherism will notice the shift from one eighteenth-century influence who loomed large in her era, Adam Smith, to this curious emphasis on Burke among contemporary Tories. Burke was only retroactively inducted into the pantheon of Tory thinkers in the 1920s, long after his death. Frost nonetheless claims that ‘lots of modern British conservative politicians….would consider themselves to be intellectual heirs of Burke’. Quite which bit of Burke they revere is, however, obscure. Presumably it is not the Burke who condemned the excesses of British imperialism in India.

Oddly, Frost passes up the aspect of Burke’s legacy that he could most obviously bend to his purpose. This is Burke’s sympathy with the American colonists in the 1770s. Perhaps even Frost is unwilling to claim parallels from the success of the American secession from Britain for the very different situation of Brexit Britain? Or perhaps he recognises that this would not help him to make his case. Indeed, it would lay bare his deceit that Britain is regaining ‘independence’. As a former diplomat, Frost should know that only a country with such independence can peacefully exercise the right to secede from what are at bottom treaty relations, without needing the American colonists’ use of force to throw off the British yoke.

Frost may also be aware that Burke was not a sympathiser with secession. His view, instead, was that the constitution had become unbalanced in the 1760s and that the colonists were, like him and his political confederates on this side of the Atlantic, seeking to rebalance it. It was not secession but the need for checks and balances on the arbitrary exercise of power that Burke championed.

Hence the emphasis on partnership in the one substantial passage from Burke that Frost quotes, early in his speech. In it Burke argues:

The state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other such low concern. It is to be looked on with reverence….It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection.
Frost uses this passage instrumentally to claim that the EU has moved from the low concerns of trade that Frost himself is employed to negotiate, and has become some kind of state. If Frost really grasped the nature of eighteenth-century trade he would also know that this is a false dichotomy. Burke, like all eighteenth-century statesmen, was well aware of the role of the state – often at gunpoint – in trade. Indeed, he spent much of his career deprecating this kind of behaviour by the British state in India.

For Burke, reining in such misconduct required the balanced constitution which he felt George III threatened in the 1760s and 1770s, and that the French revolutionaries threatened on their side of the Channel in the 1790s. It is from Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) that Frost derives his quotation.

In the process, Frost takes Burke totally out of context. After all, Frost makes clear that his purpose is to praise the revolution he claims is being realised in the twenty-first century by ‘the revival of the nation state’. Let’s leave aside Frost’s dubious equation of a composite monarchy (the clue is in the proper title of the state – the United Kingdom) with the notion of a nation state. It is sufficient to point out that Burke, unlike Frost, was praising neither revolution nor nationalism. For him the state rested on an ordered partnership, rather than allegiance to principles or people or patriotism.

Frost may have evoked Burke. This, however, seems to have been an entirely spurious attempt to claim the legacy of Burke’s vision of an organic and balanced society. For in all key aspects Frost either misapplies Burke or opposes him entirely. This is most obvious in his risibly using Reflections on the Revolution in France in support of Frost’s own enthusiasm for a nationalistic overturning of international order for unstated and undefined ‘great things’. This offends against Burke’s own warnings of the dangers of abstract thinking and of playing God by assuming that some magic bullet like Brexit can somehow solve all problems.

Yet it is also obvious in Frost’s own role. A running theme of Burke’s thought was the need to balance power and make it accountable in the perfect partnership that Frost, citing Burke, spoke of in his speech. But there is not much sign that Frost – who went out of his way to signal his status as a true believer in Brexit – is actually committed to any such partnership. In contrast to his opposite number, Michel Barnier, he is also seemingly untrammelled by responsibility to Parliament, despite the great importance of his work. This is hardly Burkean.

Frost’s misrepresentation of Burke matters as much as his dubious assumptions about trade and economics. It suggests a failure to think through anything he said in Brussels, and reluctance to even recognise the shallowness of his observations. It betokens a willingness to twist words and to make unfounded claims in support of a project which seems to matter to Frost more than the country on whose behalf he claims to act. It indicates an enthusiasm to revolutionise the international trading order without any clear idea of what might replace it, an ambition that Burke would surely deplore. Finally, as with his masters, Cummings and Johnson, it demonstrates a tendency to masquerade nationalistic prejudice with supposed erudition.

About the Author

Pippa Catterall is Professor of History and Policy at the University of Westminster.


Sinn Féin is poised to recast Ireland’s political dynamic

Sinn Féin experienced a late surge in popularity to secure the largest share of the vote in the Irish general election on 8 February. John Ryan writes that the party’s success has redrawn Ireland’s political landscape, leaving the country’s two established parties of power, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, in a difficult position.

The Republic of Ireland’s general election took place on 8 February. Sinn Féin’s vote share increased by 10.7 percentage points, making it the most popular party. This is the first time it has achieved this distinction; it will not be the largest party in the Irish Parliament (Dáil Éireann) only because it did not run enough candidates to capitalise on its surge in popularity. In 2019, it had very poor local and European Parliament elections, losing half of its local councillors, which is making its success in the general election even more surprising.

The result is part of a story that began more than a decade ago, with the economic crisis, spending cuts and tax increases, and the intervention of the IMF and EU with a multi-lateral ‘bailout’ loan in late 2010. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, which were in government at the time, were severely punished by the electorate at the general election in 2011. Having continued with a programme of spending cuts and tax increases from 2011 onwards, Fine Gael and Labour also lost swathes of voters in 2016, notwithstanding Ireland’s rapid economic recovery.

From 2016, Fine Gael governed with the support of a confidence-and-supply agreement with Fianna Fáil, which effectively supported the government in parliament. This arrangement lasted almost four years – long beyond its expected lifetime – partly due to the need for political stability to deal with the impact of Brexit.

Ireland’s political landscape has now been redrawn. Sinn Féin has won the popular vote in the Irish election, securing 24.5 percent of first preferences in the country’s electoral system of single transferable votes. Opposition party Fianna Fáil came second with 22.2 percent, and Leo Varadkar’s ruling Fine Gael a dismal third on 20.9 percent. As far as seat distribution is concerned, Fianna Fáil received 38 seats, down 6 seats on 2016. Sinn Féin won 37 seats, up 14 on 2016, and Fine Gael dropped 16 seats to end up with 35 seats. This means that Fine Gael had the third worst vote result in its history (after 1944 and 1948), while, for Fianna Fail, it was the second worst ever (after its post-crash humiliation in 2011).

Under the mechanics of Ireland’s electoral system, 39 constituencies elect between three and five lawmakers each, through a single transferable vote. Sinn Féin’s election success materialised under the leadership of Mary Lou McDonald, a Dubliner who replaced veteran Belfast leader Gerry Adams in 2018. Since the party only put forward 42 candidates to fill Ireland’s 160 parliamentary seats, and since its success has come at the expense of other left-wing parties, it may now be impossible to build a governing bloc.

Sinn Féin rode a wave of anger over homelessness, soaring rents, hospital waiting lists and fraying public services. McDonald offered left-wing solutions, such as an ambitious public housing building programme, that enthused voters, especially those under 50. Meanwhile, Varadkar’s attempt to frame the election around his Brexit diplomacy and the strong economy fell flat. Fianna Fáil was contaminated by its confidence-and-supply deal that had propped up Varadkar’s minority administration, leaving Sinn Féin to cast itself as the agent of real change.

Varadkar may have a reputation abroad as a modern and polished statesman, but his domestic image differs from this substantially. Unusually for an Irish politician, the prime minister is socially awkward, and has not emerged as the ruthless vote-winner his party hoped he would be when they chose him to replace Enda Kenny in 2017. Simon Coveney, the Foreign Affairs minister, is being sounded out by Fine Gael members about taking over from Varadkar. Coveney was runner up in the party’s 2017 leadership election.

This extraordinary election result comes at a time at which the Republic of Ireland is the fastest growing economy in the EU, whose right of centre Taoiseach (prime minster) is a competent, gay, mixed-race Irish-Indian. Sinn Féin at its core is the party that wants to call a border poll in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on Irish unity. At the same time, it embraces multiculturalism, and supported both gay marriage and abortion rights. Relations with the UK were, until Brexit, as close as they have ever been. But Brexit altered the mood. Irish people disliked the way Brexiters disregarded Irish concerns.

Brexit itself may in fact have become Sinn Féin’s perfect storm: Not only has it locked the two larger parties into an extended problematic marriage, but it has also left the prospect of a United Ireland looking far less remote. Northern Irish voters chose Remain in the 2016 referendum but are now outside the EU anyway. Faced with the choice between two unions — the UK or the EU — many north of the border may choose unity with the Republic of Ireland in the next five years. Irish unity is Sinn Féin’s raison d’etre; already sharing power in Belfast, the party promises to hold a unity referendum within five years if it gains control in Dublin.

The two established parties of power in Ireland find themselves in a difficult situation. Varadkar has ruled out a pact with Sinn Féin and has instead floated a deal with Fianna Fáil. During the campaign, the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, ruled out entering government with Sinn Féin but left the door open to a deal with Fine Gael. Some suspect its preferred outcome is a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael government – an unpopular continuation of the status quo that would consolidate Sinn Féin as leader-in-waiting of the subsequent government. If Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are unable to come to an understanding to form a government, then a new election would be called, in which Sinn Féin would almost certainly run more candidates and win more seats.

On 20 February, Seán Ó Fearghaíl of Fianna Fail was re-elected as speaker which means Fianna Fail have 37 seats, the same as Sinn Féin. Four party leaders failed to win enough support to be elected Prime Minister (Taoiseach) in the first sitting of the 33rd Dáil, with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald winning the most votes. In the first vote, members of parliament voted against Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar being re-appointed as leader of the country and he offered his resignation to President Michael D Higgins. He will continue in the role in a caretaker capacity until a new Prime Minister is elected. The result was 36 votes in favour, 107 against, with 16 abstentions.

Members of parliament also voted against Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s bid to become Prime Minster, as 41 voted in favour, 97 against and 19 abstained, and then voted on Green Party leader Eamon Ryan’s attempt to become Taoiseach, but he only received the support of his party’s 12 TDs, with 115 votes against and 28 abstentions. Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald failed to win enough support, with 45 votes in favour, 84 in opposition and 29 abstentions. The Irish Parliament has adjourned until Thursday 5 March and the talks seeking to agree a programme for government are set to intensify, a process that could take weeks or even months, and end in another election.

Sinn Féin is now poised to recast Ireland’s political dynamic and install itself as a third large party in what has historically been a two-party system. Whether in government or opposition, 2020 will be the election that sees Sinn Féin fundamentally break the historical tight grip of the two traditional parties on Irish politics.

Mary Lou McDonald is a smart politician, careful not to box herself in to policy positions that she cannot get out of or cannot sell to the party faithful. So while she now talks about reunification and the need for a border poll – she also stresses the need for a process of preparation for constitutional change and for orderly transition, without attaching a time scale to it.

Note: This article was first published on LSE EUROPP – European Politics and Policy.

LSE Blog

About the author

John Ryan is a Fellow at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a Network Research Fellow at CESifo, Munich, Germany. He previously was a Fellow at St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge, and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin, Germany

Constitutionally, Corbyn will leave the Labour Party in a similar state to how he found it

Lewis Bassett discussess the organisational changes that took place within Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. He argues these reforms were a house of cards that now appears ready to collapse, leaving little in its wake.

Politically, Jeremy Corbyn may have been right when he said that Labour under his leadership had ‘won the argument’. The current contenders to replace him are all far to the left of those who stood in 2015. And signs that the Conservatives are willing to tax and spend a little more, as well as borrow and invest, are policies that since early 2016 had been the life blood of ‘Corbynomics’ (although the more innovative and transformative side of this agenda – Labour’s industrial strategy, for example – are absent). Austerity, too, is not what it used to be with both voters and economic elites changing their former preferences.

But constitutionally, Corbyn will leave the Labour Party in a similar state to how he found it. Despite all the talk of democratisation that accompanied his leadership, very little has actually taken place. In September 2017, Corbyn announced a Democracy Review that would be a precursor to sweeping party reforms. Most Labour leaders tend to conduct such reviews but only Corbyn had promised to put ‘members at the heart of the party’. The Review captured over 11,000 submissions, including from Labour’s complex web of affilated organisations and trade unions; it was nevertheless rushed owing to perceptions of the need to stabilise Corbyn’s mantle and was ultimately watered down by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).

In 2018, at Labour’s conference – nominally the party’s sovereign body – delegates could vote on a package of rule changes drawn up by the NEC, rather than the direct recommendations of the Review. The result was little more than tinkering. On important issues, such as the number of seats on the NEC or the rules for leadership elections, small changes widened the franchise to give greater power mainly to the party’s affiliated trade unions.

The issue of how Labour selects its candidates for Westminster was a live topic since the moment Corbyn found himself on the leadership ballot in 2015. Reform here was also an outcome of conference in 2018, although not the purvey of the Review. These changes again testified to the party’s pluralism, giving greater power to local branches (both members and unions) to ‘trigger’ a sitting MP to face a local contest before standing for Labour in a general election. The proof of radicalism, however, was in the eating: before the 2019 general election, only six out of a total 242 sitting Labour MPs faced such a contest, including the Corbyn-loyalist Kate Osamor. Of this, two survived their members’ votes and the rest, other than Roger Godsiff, were re-imposed by the NEC without a choice. Considering how the whip was withdrawn from 21 Conservative MPs last year, Boris Johnson achieved more for party discipline in a single day than Corbyn did in nearly five years.

At the local level, there has been little change in the political composition of Labour councils, typically considered the domain of the party’s ‘old right’. Regional offices have remained largely unaltered. As for the Labour’s HQ in London, a very slow move away from New Labour’s bureaucratic legacy has occurred, including the party’s general secretary being drawn from the sympathetic trade union Unite. However, these changes are unstable, especially where employment contracts for central office staff are fixed-term.

Of course, Corbyn’s support has always been strongest among the members, yet here too the picture is increasingly mixed. In order to understand this, a distinction must be drawn between the organisation of members at the local level and their preferences as individuals, registered in one-member-one-vote (OMOV) plebiscites. Although historically introduced to undermine the party’s left, Corbyn supporters were always stronger in the latter.

So much, in fact, seems clear in the current state of local party ‘nominations’ for future leader (the final outcome of which is decided by an OMOV ballot). Among local branches, Rebecca Long-Bailey, seen to be the Corbyn-continuity candidate, trails behind Keir Starmer, the man who led Labour in the direction of a second referendum on Brexit. More worrying for Corbyn supporters, however, will be that Starmer’s lead over Long-Bailey is reflected in polling of members as well. The Corbyn movement appears to be shrinking among members, potentially costing it the leadership.

The slim majority of Corbyn’s supporters on the NEC is under threat as well, but not only as a result of a shift in members’ preferences. After two Corbyn-supporting delegates on the committee became MPs in 2019, an OMOV by-election for their replacement has seen division appear over exactly who would be the left’s candidate, with the preferences of the pro-Corbyn Momentum clashing with those of other left-wing factions. On 7 February, Labour’s compliance unit suspended two of the left-wing candidates, one of whom was previously embroiled in the party’s anti-Semitism crisis – an area where a distinct lack of leadership continues to cause havoc among the Corbyn movement’s grassroots.

Although pending the result of the leadership contest in early April, there is already enough evidence to suggest a major weakness of the Corbyn movement among members. In this light, the political commitments of the latter appear to have been centred upon one man, rather than any deeper socialist ideology, such as Long-Bailey claims to represent.

Ideologically, history may judge the Corbyn-movement harshly in terms of deepening members’ commitment to socialism, insofar as that was actually the goal. Momentum may have taken its members for granted, depending on them for donations, votes, likes and shares but failing to generate deeper and broader levels of ideological engagement. Such a task, in a post-modern, individualised context, without strong trade unions or significant class conflict, may be hard to achieve at scale, perhaps impossible. On the continent, ‘left populists’ (as Corbyn was also branded by his staff) like Podemos in Spain or La France Insoumise have also struggled to develop and sustain deep roots, both ideologically and institutionally. It is Britain’s majoritarian electoral system that explains the appearance of a renewed anti-austerity left inside of Labour, rather than the taking shape of a new insurgent party.

About the Author

Lewis Bassett is a PhD researcher in the Department of Sociology at the University of Manchester.

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Jack Hamilton on Unsplash.


Euroleaks: Why release? And why now?

Euroleaks: Why release? And why now?

Adults In The RoomBrexitCampaigningDiEM25EnglishEuropean CrisisFinance MinisterFinMin2015GreeceGreek CrisisMeRA25Politics And EconomicsWebmaster YanisVaroufakis 2385 Views0 Comment  February 16, 2020

During 2015’s first half, as Greece’s finance minister, I participated in thirteen crucial Eurogroup meetings – before the SYRIZA government (disrespecting the referendum result of 5th July) capitulated. The result of that capitulation was my immediate resignation and a permanent austerity program (until… 2060). 

From the beginning, the first Eurogroup, it was clear that the troika leaders dominating those meetings were determined to prevent any serious debate on Greece’s ‘program’. I would arrive with a determination to find an honourable compromise on the basis of apt technical proposals the purpose of which was to help the people of Greece breathe again while minimising the costs to our creditors (that dominated the Eurogroup). 

In sharp contrast, the troika leaders, and their complicit finance ministers, would stonewall while refusing to discuss my proposals or to counter-propose anything that made financial, political or moral sense. Again and again they demanded our government’s surrender to a neocolonial, austerity, neocolonial program that they themselves, behind closed doors, confessed it had failed!

After the first three Eurogroup meetings I realised, to my horror, that no minutes were being taken down. Moreover, the absence of any record of what was being said allowed the troika apparatchiks to indulge in an orgy of leaks and innuendos that very quickly spread worldwide. 

It was a major Operation in Truth Reversal: The troika was leaking that I would come to the meetings unprepared, without technical preparation, and that I was, instead, boring my colleagues to death with ideological or theoretical speeches that were besides the point.

It was my first, real, and very painful, exposure to the true meaning of fake news. 

To be able to brief my PM and parliament accurately on what went on in those interminable meetings, as well as to defend myself from the distortions and downright lies regarding my interventions (as well as of the lies of what the troika folks were saying to me), I began recording the proceedings on my smart phone. 

Not wishing to keep this secret, I made this public in an interview with the New York Times – as a means of warning the purveyors of fake news that I could prove they were spreading lies. The reaction of the European Commission was one of fake outrage – but, interestingly, they stopped leaking!

Later, I published my memoir (ADULTS IN THE ROOM) which I based, to a large extent, on those recordings – thinking that it would be the end of the story.

Why am I bothering you now with this 5-year old story? 

Because, for reasons I shall outline below, MeRA25-DiEM25 and I have decided that now is the right time to make the said recordings available to the public. 

Why now?

After publishing ADULTS IN THE ROOM, I was not planning to make the unedited recordings public even though, for three years after the book’s publication, and especially here in Greece, the fake news of 2015 are still being peddled as facts. Having distilled in ADULTS most of what mattered, I was prepared to let the matter rest.

However, last week two events here in Greece changed my mind:

1. The new rightwing New Democracy government recently legislated the sale of non-performing mortgages to funds that will trigger mass evictions of families that, due to the never ending crisis, cannot service their mortgages. From 1st May, a new wave of misery is going to engulf our already defeated population. In Parliament, where I lead MeRA25 (DiEM25’s new progressive party in Greece), the PM and his ministers took turns to ‘explain’ what they are doing by blaming their new liquidationist drive on… me and the manner in which I ‘upset’ my finance minister colleagues in those Eurogroup meetings of 2015!

2. My former government colleagues (SYRIZA) have just leaked an internal review of what they did wrong since 2014 and why they were defeated in the July 2019 general election. Their main conclusion seems to be that their finance minister in 2015 (me!) antagonised his colleagues in the Eurogroup, failing to table reasonable proposals, being recalcitrant etc. (i.e. SYRIZA adopted fully the troika’s narrative).

In view of 1 and 2 above it is now abundantly clear to me that the fake news concerning the 2015 Eurogroup meetings are providing the cover for a new wave of assaults against the weakest of citizens. For this reason, in a Parliamentary debate on matters pertaining to labour law involving party leaders (last Friday 14th Feb), I addressed my detractors directly: 

“You have spent 5 years”, I told them “lying about what was going on in these Eurogroup meetings. Now you are building upon those distortions new austerity and liquidation legislation. For this reason, before Members of Parliament can cast an informed vote on these bills, they have a right and a duty to know exactly what was being said in those Eurogroup meetings.” 

At that point, I read out a Greek High Court decision advising that such recordings are fully legal (provided they do not pertain to the participants’ private life and are recorded in the course of one’s public duties). Then, I took out an envelop containing a USB stick with all the recordings in my possession and submitted it to the House’s secretariat saying that I leave it to the Speaker of the House to decide how he would make the material available to MPs and the public at large. 

Soon afterwards, a police officer returned the USB stick to my office, on the orders of the Speaker who deemed my gesture ‘unacceptable’. A few hours later, I issued a statement that DiEM25-MeRA25 will, in view of the Speaker’s stance, release the material to the public. 

“You have been telling stories about what went on in these meetings, as if you knew exactly what was said, but now you panic at the thought of finding out what was really said”, we added.

What is the significance of these recordings beyond Greece?

These recordings/transcripts make for fascinating listening/reading for those who want independent insights into the decision-making process within the EU: 

  • Europeanists have much to learn on how Euroscepticism, Brexit being a case in point, was aided and abetted by the unacceptable decision-making process at the heart of the EU. Learning these lessons is a prerequisite for reforming, or better still transforming, the EU.
  • Eurosceptics will, unfortunately, find evidence in these recordings that their attitudes are justified.
  • Students of international relations, European studies, finance and economics will gain invaluable insights in how flimsily crucial decisions for the world economy are reached. 
  • And, finally, since democracy without transparency is utterly impossible, the release of these files is a small, but not insignificant, service to democrats around the world.

WATCH THIS SPACE: DiEM25.org and MeRA25.gr for the release of the unedited recordings around the 10th of March 2020 (once transcripts have been produced and made properly accessible to everyone)

Sign up to the DiEM25 newsletter (https://i.diem25.org/newsletter) if you want to be informed the moment DiEM25 publishes the recordings and transcripts

Support for more tax & spend at fifteen-year high

21 September 2018.

The majority of Brits think the government should increase levels of tax and public spending – the highest proportion in fifteen years, according to findings from the most recent British Social Attitudes survey.
67% of Labour supporters and 53% of Conservative supporters think the government should increase taxes and spending on public services
Older people more supportive of more tax and spend than young
Health and education top list of priorities for extra public spending
The majority of Brits think the government should increase levels of tax and public spending – the highest proportion in fifteen years, according to findings from the most recent British Social Attitudes survey.
The research by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) shows that 60% of people are in favour of the government taxing and spending more, up from 49% in 2016 and 31% in 2010 when support for tax and spending increases were at its lowest. 33% now say that tax and spend should remain the same. Only 4% think that government should tax and spend less, the same as the previous year.
Those aged 55 and over are significantly more inclined (65%) to state that tax and spending should be increased than those aged 18-34 (54%). This trend appears to be consistent over time, with those aged 35 and over being more likely to back increased tax and spending than those aged 18-34 since 1993.
Although Labour supporters remain more likely than Conservative supporters to say that the government should increase tax and spending on health, education and social benefits (67% vs 53%), there has been a significant rise in Conservative voter support which has increased by 18 percentage points from 35% in 2015. The last time over half of Conservative voters thought the government should increase tax and spending was in 2002, when support among the whole population for public spending was at an all-time high. In contrast, 40% of Conservative supporters and 26% of Labour supporters believe the government should keep taxes and spending the same. Just 4% of Labour and Conservative supporters think the government should reduce tax and spend.
When asked what the top priority for extra public spending should be, the majority of respondents say they would like to see government spend more on health (54%),followed by education (26%) and housing (7%). Social security (2%), public transport (1%) and overseas aid (0%) were least popular.
All age groups cite health as the main priority for increased spending, but a generational dimension is reflected here; 18-34 year olds are more likely to favour increased spending on education (37%) compared with those aged 35-54 (26%) and 55+ year olds (18%). Reversely, older age groups place a higher importance on increases in health spending (53% for those aged 35-54, 59% for 55 year olds and over) than younger respondents (47%).
There were also notable differences between attitudes by people’s political party support. While both Conservative and Labour supporters view health as their top spending priority (54% both), 30% of Labour voters want more spending on education to be the top priority compared with 20% of Conservative voters. Equally, more Labour voters (8%) than Conservative supporters (5%) think increasing public spend for housing should come first. In turn, Conservative supporters are more likely to say extra government spending on defence should be the first priority (8%) than those supporting Labour (1%).
NatCen’s Head of Public Attitudes, Roger Harding, said: “Since 2010 the proportion of people who want more tax and spend has nearly doubled and shows the country is clearly tiring of austerity. The question for the government is whether their recent spending announcements have done enough to meet public demand for more public investment, including now from a majority of their own voters. The question for Labour is whether they can win over the many older people who support more spending but currently do not support the party.”